It’s easy to get hung up on just what is and isn’t an antique. But it may have little if anything to do with how desirable something is. It’s also easy to play the role of arbiter and decide just what should be in an antique show and what shouldn’t. These are topics that never come into play in a more mainstream retail environment.
The primary component of any definition for an antique has to do with age. One hundred years is the most often referenced number. Why one hundred and not 99 or 101 isn’t exactly clear, but it is a nice round number and an easy barometer.
Yet age also has little to do with quality. A 75 year-old piece of great quality can be more desirable than something with a century and a half of age that just wasn’t very nice to begin with. For sure, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but when more folks desire one thing over another, that gives it market value. It would also seem the younger the customer is, the less older means better.
Now if we’re talking about the traditional 55 to 75 year-old collector, age may weigh heavier when determining value. The shows catering to this age category, which is most of the smaller hotel and charity shows out there, go through at least the motions to keep the stuff this crowd may turn their nose down at off the floor. These are also the shows where you see the gray hairs scratching their heads wondering just where all the young collectors are.
Here is where the antiques market has something in common with the real estate market. What the older homeowners are looking to sell so they can downsize, is not what the younger folks looking for their first home are looking to buy. It’s not a problem of too few buyers, or too much supply exactly. There are enough buyers and enough supply, but what one group is selling is not what another group wants.
The results of a recent and ongoing survey here at Urban Art and Antiques can be used to demonstrate. The largest age group in the survey is aged 31-50. This would include the youngest Baby Boomers down to the youngest of Generation X. An additional seven percent of respondents were aged 30 and under, making the total for the two groups more than 50 percent of respondents.
Another question asked about the period in which the things they buy were produced or crafted. The top answer straddles the age-related definition of antiques at 1900-1930. This would seemingly include Arts-and-Crafts, Colonial Revival, Art Deco and even early modern things. Not what you might typically expect to find in antiques shows.
The next most popular response is the time period preceding it, 1851-1900. Here we fall smack dab in Victoriana, a style also not common at antique shows, yet gaining some interest among younger buyers particularly as it relates to Steam Punk and the like. Only then do we get into the era of more of the things you would typically expect to find at an old-school antique show, those stemming from the period of 1801-1850. That’s followed by an almost as popular 1931-present category. And way at the end, things from the 18th Century.
If there’s a better way to say DISCONNECT, I don’t know what it is.
Fashion World Icon Leaves Retirement to Become Mentor to Vintage Merchants and Independent Designers
Recently retired from a long and distinguished career at Saks Fifth Avenue and not one to rest, industry icon Nena Ivon has taken on a new role in the world of independent design and vintage fashion. Ivon will serve as Fashion Director of Randolph Street Market. Her first task— helping independent designers and vintage merchants succeed at Randolph Street Market’s (RSM) Modern Vintage Chicago April 17-18, 2010.
“Today people are interested in buying things that are different and in being more individual in how they are dressing,” Ivon says describing the brilliance of bringing together independent designers and vintage dealers for the event. “The result is a uniqueness that can’t be found anywhere else—and everyone wants something they can’t get somewhere else. I’m here to help those who provide it.”
From New York to Santa Monica, vintage and independent designer markets are known as the best place to find the unique, and Ivon wants to help make Chicago’s vintage market the best. With a sizable industry already in place, positioning the RSM as a fashion destination with the city’s independent designers at the center of this push, doesn’t seem like too tall an order.
“I’m proud of Chicago, and I like to think of it as not only the heart of America but also the heart of America’s fashion industry,” Ivon says noting that fashion tourists from around the world already frequently make their way to the city. “I’m in this position because I made it known that going to the Randolph Street Market is one of my favorite things to do in Chicago—and I want to share my enthusiasm.”
The longest-serving employee of Saks Fifth Avenue, Ivon has worked with dozens of top-name designers in the role of fashion director and manager of special events for the company. She also teaches three courses at Columbia College in Chicago including a history of modern fashion and fashion show production. That, combined with her new role as fashion director for Randolph Street Market, may seem like a lot to do in retirement, but taking on extra work is something Ivon is accustomed to.
“It’s just who I am,” Ivon says, happy she can turn her attention to independent design.
“My goal is increased visibility for the clothing designers, to help them sell more.” That help will come in the form of merchandising and promotion, and in reinforcing the show as a destination for unique design. To help accomplish that, Ivon says she’ll be working to leverage the city’s educational resources and even bring in top designers who can also benefit from the visibility at the market.
To some, the worlds of vintage fashion and new design might seem to be at odds, but Ivon says they make a perfect mix.
“A lot of people think you have to dress in vintage head to toe—you don’t,” she says explaining that the independent designers often cull vintage fashion.” Fashions always come back in new designs, she says, but come back in different ways. “Sometimes vintage can look dated, but the best stuff always looks good. Chances are if it looks dated, it wasn’t great design to begin with.”
Ivon says she’s been impressed by the quality at the Randolph Street Market but adds that sometimes good design isn’t all that’s needed to succeed. Part of her work is to instill the art of personal promotion.
“Designers can expect people to come to them—they usually won’t. Even established designers have to make the effort to promote themselves,” Ivon says. “Being visible and consciously promoting is what it’s all about…
“That, plus having fun, is why I’m here.”
Find Randolph Street Market Festival on the Calendar of Antiques
Now that the traditional antique buying season has commenced, I wandered over to 1st Dibs to see what was selling via the designer trade this season. As I had somewhat suspected, this Fall still appears to be about fun modern accessories and interesting smaller scale contemporary pieces. Side tables, lighting, interesting seating and unique decorative pieces. Decorative pieces seem to be heavily in demand as less extensive redecorating projects are the current norm. Pieces which pack a lot of presence and style for the price tag seems to be the ticket. If one reviews the September sales summary one will find a piece of brown 19th Century furniture here and there but, for the majority, the desirable form is modern, small in scale, unusual, and pricing is critical.
This inspired one of those flashback moments for me. A decade ago I worked in a gallery located in San Francisco’s antique/design district; home to over twenty solid dealers of traditional genres of antiques. Emanating from the air itself within this two block radius, one could feel the collective outburst of horror when the devil itself, Design Within Reach, moved into the neighborhood. Our interior design clients were thrilled. The antique dealers were not.
For months, dealers fumed and cast disparaging looks upon the intruder. This change was particularly upsetting to the dealers since the space had only become vacant after a long-standing dealer had been forced out due to rising rents. Adding insult to injury, the intruder proudly placed a new aqua-green Vespa in its window display upon opening. Modern design and hipness had dared to place itself squarely in the face of 18th Century French settees and English George II chests of drawers, challenging the hallowed ground of ‘things with a past’. A foreshadowing of things to come indeed! Flashing forward to today, one discovers that 1/2 of the long-standing dealers in the neighborhood have either closed, downsized, moved to a cheaper neighborhood, or gone entirely on-line to be replaced by dealers in modern furniture.
I have to admit that I secretly like many aspects of the current trend of mixing more modern, fun and unique pieces along with what we call traditional antiques. It tends to lighten the presentation a bit and is more likely to appeal to younger collectors. However, I wish that it wasn’t taking such a toll on traditional antique forms. This is particularly true since I work in the industry and have felt and witnessed the losses within the retail industry firsthand.
On the other hand, I am also aware that the retail antique trade has been slow to admit and adapt to changes in taste as well as budgets of the average collector. The mainstream pool of those who are interested in exclusively decorating their home with mid-range early to mid 19th Century antiques and accessories has decreased dramatically over the last decade and the number of collectors who can afford to do so has diminished even further. Changing times require changing approaches. Unfortunately, it will likely require re-thinking inventory, merchandising, marketing as well as pricing approaches in the retail sector.
Read more from this author at www.adiscourseontheartsandsciences.net/blog